A coroner’s court has returned a finding of accidental death after a rider in a time trial died following a collision with a stationary caravan on the A63 in East Yorkshire on March 29.
The court in Hull heard that Christopher Auker, 65, had realised the danger at the last minute but had been unable to avoid hitting the caravan, whose driver had pulled over after a puncture. He sustained head, spinal and thoracic injuries and died at the scene.
In the aftermath of the accident, a number of races were cancelled as police called for full road closures, but racing later resumed after the creation of a new safety advisory group.
Driver Elliott Smith was towing the caravan on the westbound carriageway of the A63 when a blow-out forced him to stop. He had just passed a lay-by and was unable to pull right off the road, but pulled over as far as he could, leaving the caravan poking out 1.5m into the road.
Coroner Prof Paul Marks said Mr Smith had “no alternative” but to stop where he did. He added: “He (Mr Auker) was engaged in a recreational activity he loved and was good at.
“It was entirely legal and well organised.”
Mr Auker’s widow Elizabeth told the Yorkshire Post: “This was a freak accident that could not have been foreseen.”
Mr Auker, who had been competing in time trials since he was 16, was taking part in a Good Friday event organised by Hull’s City Road Club. He was a keen rider and time-trial competititor who clocked up about 10,000 miles per year in training.
The court heard that after Mr Smith pulled over, two other riders “flew” round the caravan, but Mr Auker was in a deep tuck and was looking down as he approached the caravan.
His friend, David Jenkinson, witnessed the accident from a nearby layby.
Mr Jenkinson saw Mr Auker avoid a pothole, then “like the good time-triallist Chris was, he began to tuck back into the gutter.”
He said: “I thought, ‘Oh Chris, please, please start to move out.’ I saw Chris move more into the left-hand side, then at the last moment he saw the caravan and he just hit it. I just saw this almighty big crash, collision.”
Collision investigator Alfred Place said that Mr Auker’s time trial bike was designed for maximum efficiency, but its aerodynamic design put him at the “distinct disadvantage” of looking down.
He said: “Such a line of sight in a controlled environment presents little in the way of hazard, but in a highway environment the rider needs to keep lifting his head up so a view of the carriageway is obtained.”
He said Mr Auker was travelling between 25mph and 30mph and would have had 30 to 40 seconds to see the vehicles.
It was, he said, a “wholly avoidable” crash.
Race organiser Geoffrey Backshall said in a statement that he believed the race was correctly marshalled, organised and safe.
“I personally have ridden the course in the past and felt far safer on the A63 than riding on single carriageways which form some of the races,” he said.
After the verdict, Mrs Auker said: “Chris was a very experienced cyclist; cycling was more than a hobby to him, it was an obsession. He rode thousands of miles in training every year and had been competing in time-trials for many years.
“He had ridden on this particular course dozens of times before, so he knew the area very well. Neither Chris nor I had any worries about this course – we both felt time-trials were safer on a dual carriageway where there is room for traffic to overtake.
“This was a freak accident that could not have been foreseen and nothing to do with the time-trial course.”
Racing was abandoned following the incident, and the road was closed between Welton Road at Brough and the A1034 at South Cave while emergency services, including police collision investigators, attended the scene.
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.